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Topics In the News
U.S. Senate Passes ENDA
Posted by: Claude J. Summers on 11/07/13
Last updated on: 11/08/13
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Senator Tammy Baldwin.

In an historic vote on November 7, 2013, the United States Senate passed the Employment Nondiscrimination Act (ENDA) on a 64-32 vote. The measure bans discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in employment. Ten Republicans joined 54 Democrats in voting for the bill. However, the bill is not likely to be ratified--or even considered--by the House of Representatives.

All 54 of the Democrats present voted in favor of the bill; the other Democratic senator, Bob Casey, was absent due to a family emergency. The ten Republicans who voted for the bill included, in addition to Senators Mark Kirk and Susan Collins, who co-sponsored it, Senators Kelly Ayotte, Jeff Flake, Orrin Hatch, Dean Heller, John McCain, Lisa Murkowski, Rob Portman, and Pat Toomey.

Although the passage of an employment nondiscrimination bill has long been a goal of the glbtq movement for equal rights, the only other time ENDA has been permitted a Senate vote was in 1996, when the legislation prohibited sexual orientation discrimination but not discrimination on the basis of gender identity. In 1996, ENDA was considered in tandem with the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which banned federal recognition of same-sex marriage. The strategy was to use ENDA as a means of granting cover to Democrats who wanted to go on record as opposed to discrimination even as most of them voted in favor of DOMA. The bill then failed by a single vote.

In 2007, when the Democrats took control of the House of Representatives, a version of ENDA that included only sexual orientation passed the House. However, it was not considered in the Senate when President Bush threatened to veto it.

This year, Speaker of the House John Boehner has indicated his opposition to the bill. It will probably not be allowed a vote in the House.

Still, the passage of ENDA by the Senate is an important achievement, though the bill itself is marred by the inclusion of a religious exemption that is too big.

Following the bill's passage in the Senate, President Obama issued a statement in which he hailed the Senate's action as a step toward assuring "the rights and freedoms that are our birthright as Americans. . . . Just as no one in the United States can lose their job simply because of their race, gender, religion or a disability, no one should ever lose their job simply because of who they are or who they love."

The President pointedly added, "One party in one house of Congress should not stand in the way of millions of Americans who want to go to work each day and simply be judged by the job they do. Now is the time to end this kind of discrimination in the workplace, not enable it. I urge the House Republican leadership to bring this bill to the floor for a vote and send it to my desk so I can sign it into law."

Polls show wide public support for ENDA. If the House of Representatives refuses to consider the bill, President Obama should quickly issue an executive order prohibiting discrimination by federal contractors.

It is noteworthy that only one Senator, the egregious homophobe Dan Coates of Indiana, rose to speak against ENDA.

One of the most moving speeches during the consideration of ENDA by the Senate was given by Illinois Republican Senator Mark Kirk. The speech was moving not because of what he said, but because Senator Kirk devoted his first speech since returning to the Senate after a stroke he suffered in 2012 to urging ENDA's passage.

Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren delivered a beautiful speech in which she paid homage to those who fought for justice in the past and said she wants to live in a world where "equal means equal."

The Senate's only openly gay member, Tammy Baldwin, delivered a beautifully modulated and informative speech in support of ENDA.

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